Digitizing sponsorChevrolet Division, General Motors Corporation
The definitive Populuxe film on 1950s automotive, industrial, interior and architectural design.
A "tribute to the American stylist," American Look shows families at leisure, children dressed in cowboy and cowgirl outfits watching television, a father shooting home movies of his picnicking family, Fifties-modern home interiors graced by formally dressed models, furniture (including designs by Herman Miller), kitchens and kitchen equipment, packaging (including designs by Donald Deskey), appliances, textiles, offices and office furniture, office machines, industrial machines, lawn mowers and sprinklers, domestic and institutional architecture, people at leisure and enjoying recreation, children playing baseball, a mother and child in a transparent rowboat being observed by the snorkeling father, automobile styling and design and the work of the design staff of the new General Motors Technical Center at Warren, Michigan. The story behind the design of the 1959 Chevrolet Impala is shown, with dramatized moments in the design and modeling process.
The film lumps industrial, interior and product design efforts together as "styling," and characterizes them as responses by industry to insistent consumer demands for the most modern products and environment. During the last third of this twenty-eight-minute film, it becomes clear that it was produced to celebrate modern design as exemplified in the "look" of the 1959 Chevrolets, the year that tailfins stretched to their greatest extent. Since, in that year, many General Motors models shared similar mechanical components, the film promotes the many alternative design options available to car buyers, stating that "America's greatest freedom [is] the freedom of individual choice." This visually dazzling and technically excellent film presents a great variety of clean and antiseptic late Fifties products and environments, and those interested in design history would do well to listen closely to its narration.
Ken Smith sez: This Chevrolet-sponsored film is dedicated to the "stylists of America" -- the "men and women of taste and imagination" who have the "courage to dream". It has two principal goals: 1) convince the viewer that style is more important than substance (a concept that was one of the linchpins of America's booming fifties economy); and 2) showcase the delta-wing rear-finned 1959 Impala. This hidden agenda in no way detracts from the beauty of the film, certainly one of the most striking industrials ever made.
We are shown a parade of fifties products -- lovingly lit and inventively photographed -- and then we're shown the interior of the G.M. Technical Design Center (Warren, Michigan), where we see some of the most bizarre cars in automotive history being designed by men in dull Brooks Brothers suits. Arguably, this art director's wet dream is too in love with a design period that might better off be forgotten. But if you're into fifties atomic age minimalism, this is the film you've waited your entire life to see. Watch for the cameo by Harley Earl's '54 Firebird jet car near the end.
15:02:50:00 LS Sunset over dome of General Motors Tech Center, Warren, Michigan
15:02:58:00 MS Woman (teenage girl) lying on floor dials Ericofon telephone; talks on telephone
15:03:15:00 LS Two children watching television, wearing cowboy and cowgirl outfits;
one takes aim at TV set with toy gun
15:03:26:00 MS Boy playing with pictorial rubber stamps
15:03:27:00 CU Go-cart / soap box racer decorated with American flag motif
15:03:30:00 MS Boy repairs go-cart / soap box racer
15:03:40:00 LS Child dives into built-in swimming pool in suburban backyard
15:03:45:00 MS Family picnicking; blanket spread on grass
15:03:51:00 CU Man uses 8mm home movie camera
15:03:53:00 CU Barbecue grill; frankfurters on grill
15:04:00:00 LS Family barbecuing in backyard
15:04:10:00 CU 1950s stylized mailbox; hand retrieves mail
15:04:20:00 CU Doorknob; door opens
15:04:32:00 MS Camera pans household objects; appliances seen in silhouette
15:04:54:00 CU Hanging light, 1950s style; light goes on
15:04:59:00 MS Kitchen table
15:05:15:00 CU Drinking glasses (colored) on table
15:05:25:00 CU Decorative bowl spins for camera
15:05:33:00 CU Metallic coffee / tea service on platter
15:05:36:00 CU Crystal decanter and cake platter
15:05:40:00 CU Chafing dish
15:05:47:00 MS Table settings appear magically on empty table
15:05:51:00 CU Stainless steel cutlery / flatware is displayed
15:05:58:00 MS Woman sets down crystal fruit bowl in living room
15:06:05:00 LS Woman walks around living room
15:06:15:00 Zoom out from decorative pitcher to sideboard
15:06:24:00 MS Mies van der Rohe (?) chair
15:06:30:00 MS Living room furniture; chair
15:06:32:00 MS Various hanging light fixtures
15:06:40:00 MS Dining room table
15:06:54:00 LS Camera pans "modern" kitchen
15:07:14:00 MS Red tea kettle
15:07:15:00 MS Woman in kitchen walks over to stove; pulls down section of burners
15:07:24:00 CU Hand dips electric mixer into mixing bowl
15:07:29:00 CU Poultry broils on electric chrome rotisserie
15:07:34:00 CU Overhead shot of toast popping up
15:07:42:00 CU Woman's hand places toast in warming tray beneath toaster
15:07:51:00 CU Hand pours tomato juice from plastic canister
15:07:56:00 CU Electric can opener in use; opens can of Campbell's tomato soup
15:08:02:00 CU Bowl of ice is removed from underneath ice crusher
15:08:06:00 CU Upright vacuum cleaner in use
15:08:15:00 CU Floor waxer in use
15:08:26:00 CU Grill of electric fan; zoom out; blades spin
15:08:36:00 LS Mother tends to child in playpen; father in background
15:08:45:00 LS Man loads logs into modern, freestanding fireplace
15:08:52:00 MS Child in playpen
15:09:00:00 CU Fireplace screen
15:09:05:00 MS Examples of modern packaging (designed by Donald Deskey)
(Reel 2 -- PA1165)
23:31:14:00 LS Modern office building; zoom into office window
23:31:21:00 MS Man sits in swivel office chair in modular desk unit designed by Herman Miller
23:31:35:00 MS Female secretary sits in modern office furniture
23:31:40:00 MS Reception area furniture designed by Herman Miller
23:31:50:00 CU "Comptometer" -- NCR "National Post-Tronic"
23:32:05:00 ECU Finger pushing "record" button on Wollensak tape recorder
23:32:09:00 CU Dictaphone
23:32:12:00 CU Mimeograph machine
23:32:18:00 ECU Looking down the barrel of a pencil sharpener
23:32:21:00 CU Pencil sharpener in use
23:32:25:00 CU Soundscriber dictating machine (little disc recorder)
23:32:33:00 CU Thermo-Fax photocopier
23:32:40:00 CU Side view carriage return of IBM Executive electric typewriter
23:32:42:00 CU Fingers typing on IBM Executive electric typewriter
23:32:45:00 ECU Paper scrolling past typewriter rollers
23:32:49:00 CU Big balloon wheels on heavy duty truck
23:33:10:00 CU Blades of turbine on farming equipment
23:33:24:00 MS Earthmoving equipment
23:33:37:00 CU Large tire of earthmoving equipment
23:33:41:00 CU Small tire of home tractor lawn mower
23:33:50:00 MS Person riding tractor mower on suburban lawn
23:33:59:00 CU Lawn sprinkler
23:34:14:00 CU Underwater view propeller on motor boat
23:34:20:00 MS Motorboat holding two people arcing away from camera
23:34:31:00 MS Motorboat seen from above on water
23:34:32:00 MS Small pair of sailboats on water
23:34:42:00 MS Multicolored sail
23:34:52:00 LS Sailboats on ocean
23:34:58:00 MS Man and woman waterskiing; woman zig zags under man's tow line
23:35:06:00 LS Man and woman waterskiing through Cypress Gardens, Florida
23:35:20:00 LS Woman jumps off diving board, Hotel Americana, Miami Beach, Florida
23:35:24:00 MS Underwater view of diver
23:35:27:00 MS Smiling woman swimming underwater
23:35:31:00 MS Woman and boy sitting in clear-hulled rowboat
23:35:41:00 CU Man in diving mask appears under clear hull and waves
23:35:45:00 CU Boy in baseball catcher's mask catches ball
23:35:47:00 CU Boys catch baseball in gloves
23:35:51:00 CU Golf club next to golf ball
23:35:52:00 MS Golfer tees off
23:35:56:00 CU Golf ball lands in sand
23:35:58:00 MS Man and woman with golf cart and clubs
23:36:05:00 MS Man and woman drive off in golf cart
23:36:15:00 MS Young man sitting under tent flyleaf
23:36:18:00 MS Couple sitting on beach under colorful cloth banners
23:36:25:00 MS Children crawling on sculpted objects in playground
23:36:35:00 MS Pair of monkeys cavorting in their cage
23:36:39:00 MS Bowling balls returned
23:36:44:00 LS Woman bowls
23:36:54:00 MS Bowling ball knocks over pins
23:36:00:00 MS Modern house with glass walls
23:37:00:00 MS Streamlined houses
23:37:46:00 CU Dog's head emerges from modern designed doghouse
23:38:00:00 LS Various modern structures
23:38:24:00 LS Church built into cliffs in Sedona, Arizona
23:38:30:00 LS/CU Interiors/exteriors of modern churches
23:39:00:00 LS Camera pans exterior of high-rise building
23:39:20:00 MS Camera follows arched window of building
23:39:29:00 LS People look through arched window to see planes land
(possibly LaGuardia or Idlewild Airports)
23:39:47:00 LS Honeycombed exterior balconies of high-rise buildings
(Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright)
(Reel 3 -- PA1099)
15:10:10:00 LS Modern corporate lobby / reception area (lobby of GM Tech Center)
15:10:29:00 LS Modern and futuristic staircase; people walking up
15:10:40:00 MS People walk through extremely modern office corridors
15:11:09:00 MS Man and woman approach a door marked "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY." After ringing the bell another man answers the door. After a brief conversation, they gain admittance.
15:11:23:00 CU Door marked "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY" swings closed
15:11:29:00 MS Man makes presentation to group sitting around an office conference table
15:11:38:00 MS Executive sits down at a conference table; has meeting
15:11:55:00 MS Overhead view of man at a drafting table
15:12:11:00 CU Man drawing section of car at drafting table
15:12:12:00 CU Various drawings of car parts
15:12:39:00 MS Man smoking pipe examines drawings of cars
15:13:02:00 CU Set of pastel crayons
15:13:17:00 Camera pans drawings of car parts hung on wall
15:13:28:00 MS Men carrying sketchpads greet secretary; enter office
15:13:50:00 MS Designers and stylists build and paint forms and models for cars
15:14:08:00 CU Pile of clay is sculpted into shape of car body
15:15:20:00 MS Executives point to a model of car which is unveiled; smile and nod approvingly; senior executive shakes hand of subordinate, pats other on back
15:15:58:00 MS Wall of color samples (Art and Color Section)
15:16:02:00 LS Room with display of many color samples; designers consult with each other
15:16:50:00 MS Workers at drafting tables
15:17:00:00 CU Plastic and Fiberglas models of car sections are unmolded
15:17:18:00 CU Car dashboard
15:17:23:00 ECU Hood ornament
15:17:28:00 CU Front grill of car
15:17:30:00 CU Taillight
15:17:36:00 CU Hood ornament
15:17:41:00 CU Steering wheel
15:17:50:00 CU Dashboard
15:17:54:00 CU Front seat of car; car interior
15:18:04:00 CU Taillight of Chevrolet 1959 Impala
15:18:17:00 LS Doorman / valet holds open door for elegantly dressed couple
15:18:30:00 MS Luxury car with whitewalled tires is driven by well-dressed couple
15:18:42:00 LS Camera pans modern office reception area
15:18:52:00 CU Modern, sleek coffeemaker
15:18:54:00 CU Plastic utensils
15:18:56:00 LS Camera pans modern futuristic kitchen (Frigidaire "Kitchen of Tomorrow")
15:19:03:00 CU Model of modern building
15:19:08:00 LS Modern, geometric house
15:19:22:00 MS Silhouettte of large passenger jet aircraft
15:19:24:00 LS Ocean liner model; sun and clouds glistening in background
15:19:27:00 MS/LS Futuristic car being driven. (Pontiac Firebird II)
15:19:38:00 MS Couple walk away from parked futuristic cars at front entrance of
General Motors Tech Center
15:19:51:00 LS Futuristic car shaped like a jet aircraft drives off
CHEVROLET AUTOMOBILES INDUSTRIAL DESIGN GENERAL MOTORS TECHNICAL CENTER STYLING SAARINEN, EERO MICHIGAN WARREN ENGINEERING Frankfurters Barbecues Grills Plastic products
In appreciation of the stylists of America who work in lines, forms and textures and colors to give to us beauty, charm and elegance in the conveniences, comforts and necessities of our daily living. As a Tribute to Men and Women who Design. [Chevrolet presents. American Look. Color by Technicolor. Main titles opening titles plasticware cups Mike Wallace graphic design choruses GM Tech Center General Motors Technical Center domes skies sky sunsets Saarinen, Eero]
Through the arts and crafts of the American stylists, the things about us are made to express our own free spirits and desires for the colorful things that spell sheer fun. [teenagers girls women telephones lounging Ericofons Swedish design dialing shorts children watching television toy guns shooting rubber stamps Soap Box Derby racers boys hobbies patriotism stars American flag]
[swimming pools diving boards backyards suburbia affluence picnics plasticware plates cups transistor radios portable radios families Dads fathers home movies cameras shooting children barbecues grills charcoal six hotdogs franks frankfurters weenies wieners weiners tube steaks dogs mailboxes primary colors]
Improved styling constantly adds to the ease and grace and gaiety of American living. The things we have in America are ever changing. The studios and workshops of our stylist pour forth a never ending flow of service and of artistry. [doorknobs keyholes wipes silhouettes appliances kitchenware bowls]
Lines, planes, forms and substances in colors. On come the developments of ideas in pace with the emphatic decisions of the American people as to what they want in the shapes of utility and in the manner of their own ever-improving good taste. [silhouettes lamps illumination bright ideas tables rotation]
For our home life, the stylists are creating new expressions of utility, convenience, and beauty in the everyday things that serve us. [glasses shadows]
Wondrous possessions which have new grace and glamour are offered the American people. [glass bowls rotation pitchers coffee pots teapots glass carafes fondues appliances table settings tableware forks knives spoons utensils knife primary colors]
Homes have more than new plans, they have new patterns for living made attractive by luxurious interiors. Living space is enhanced by new materials and accented by subtleties of color selection. [women homemakers housewives blue dresses yellow chairs furniture interior decoration Fifties lamps flowers formal] cabinets cupboards chairs red lamps wipes curtains dining rooms tables]
By the way things look as well as the way they perform, our homes acquire new grace, new glamour, new accomodations expressing, not only the American love of beauty, but also the basic freedom of the American people which is the freedom of individual choice. [kitchens housewives housework women formal appliances electric mixers bowls eggshells broken eggs mixing rotisseries chickens hands toasters bread tomato juice pouring blood red glasses electric can openers Campbell's soup food tin cans ice makers]
In form, proportion, rhythm and variety, the stylists leave their unmistakable marks on everyday conveniences in flowing lines and graceful shapes which we, as Americans, may enjoy. [vacuum cleaners cleaning floors suction polishers linoleum]
Women and men alike are increasingly interested in the look of things. They eagerly give their attention to what's new and beautiful and advanced. [couples parents cribs babies interior decoration baby boom fireplaces yuppies logs toddlers standing up slide projectors]
Modern packaging does more than wrap and hold and conceal, stunning in color, ingenious in design, it brings festivity to the marketplace, tempting, hinting and revealing. [Donald Deskey graphic design Charles Eames House of Cards toys]
Those who dream in design are always contributing to our ways of work. Working situations benefit from a new kind of layout - bright, open and inviting. The modern designer creates beauty through simplicity, bringing to active business a look of casualness, a look of luxury, combining to create a new look to American efficiency. [zooms buildings International style architecture Herman Miller office furniture primary colors executives white-collar workers secretaries clerical workers women comptometers National Cash Register Post-Tronic accounting machines office machines keyboards fingers screens Wollensak 3M tape recorders Dictaphones Ditto machines duplicating duplicators mimeographs pencil sharpeners pencils SoundScribers discs audio recording dictation Thermo-Fax copiers copying machines IBM electric typewriters typing rubber rollers letters salutations]
The designer's influence is reflected in our work, adding new style and new appeal to the variety of outdoor equipment that serves us in so many ways. [sand beaches rubber garbage collecting blowers fans pesticides orchards tractors]
Engineering the shape and look of machines that change the shape and look of the land itself. [earthmoving machines extraction landscape tires yellow lawnmowers mulch bags cutting grass mowing lawns sprinklers water spraying wet]
There is a fresh look to fun in America today. Stylists have added new zest to recreation by bringing an exciting look to the large variety of things which make leisure hours more pleasurable. [water wet underwater air bubbles propellers outboard motors motorboats leisure sailing sailboats sails primary colors spinnakers oceans waterskiing Cypress Gardens Florida stunts Hotel Americana Miami Beach swimming pools diving boards swimsuits]
[glass-bottomed boats rowboats voyeurs voyeurism peeping toms mothers snorkels underwater swimming water dads moms dirty old men snooping spying fathers]
[sports boys baseball mitts gloves catchers primary colors throwing catching balls golf sand traps golf carts tents camping leisure beaches beach balls couples swimsuits bathing suits palm trees tropics playgrounds jungle gyms sculpture children playing abstraction zoos monkeys animal rights]
Modern fashion has the active look, the casual look. [bowling balls lanes alleys indoor sports bowlers spares Eastland Bowl Eastland Mall, Michigan]
The family at home is enjoying the convenience and the functional beauty of walls of glass, merging room with room, blending inside with outside. [homes modernism domestic architecture concrete blocks dogs doghouses German shepherds]
Modern American architecture has a boldness, a functional beauty, the look of America expressed in materials old and new. [modernism airports schools churches Oak Creek Canyon Sedona, Arizona nuns women walking stained glass windows murals Miguel Covarrubias Dallas, Texas sculptures elephants Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower Bartlesville, Oklahoma skyscrapers buildings terminals housing apartments]
As the stylists surround our lives with functional forms of beauty, so they surround themselves in an atmosphere of aesthetic challenge. [GM Tech Center General Motors Technical Center Warren, Michigan suits lemmings androids clones white collar workers organization men doors entrances]
For the studio of design is an inspiration in itself where men and women, representing a variety of talents, join their efforts and materialize their dreams. To give us a better understanding of the basic elements which go to make up the American Look, let us look at an example of how styles and designs are created and developed. [lobbies receptionists staircases]
Working in an artistic atmosphere, men and women of taste and imagination come together to take on the task of creating a design which will express the American Look. To every stylist, engineer, draftsman, and clay modeler, as well as the specialists on color, fabrics and metals, the creation of a new design is a complex process and a tremendous challenge worthy of their most exhaustive effort and because the newest designs must be kept confidential until just the right moment, the stylists work in rooms that are constantly locked. [corridors primary colors androids clones hallways stained glass suits walking white collar workers clean rooms Authorized Personnel Only signs]
And here the dream begins, as the basic concepts of the design problem are defined and outlined. In the broadest terms the objectives are stated and clarified, appraised and evaluated. And thus a design theme, an imaginative but practical goal is established and agreed upon. [suits management meetings white collar workers managers teams]
Now there is only the stylist's creativity, his courage to dream, his knowledge and his experience to bring forth a beginning, a starting point, a place of departure and from such dream work of individual stylists there emerge finally a number of concepts which, although varying greatly in specific treatment, still conform to the established limits of the overall design theme. [design drawings drafting futurism futuristic themes artists designers]
[suits 1959 Chevrolet Impala drawings pastels artists designers primary colors]
Now the choice narrows down to one or two concepts which combine the best styling features from all the other efforts. With the basic concept established the design must now undergo an intensive period of improvement, refinement, changes and revisions.
Emerging at last, as the culmination of ideas developed in many minds through many months. The stylists convert the smaller sketches into full-size renderings and line drawings which once again develop and refine the design theme. [designs details receptionists fingers crossed good luck airbrushes white shirts]
New dimensions now are added to line to translate the stylist's concept from drawings to full-bodied forms. To model the detailing for the finished design, a pliable material is needed and the form is sculptured into a faithful bodily expression of the full sized line drawing. [airbrushes white shirts drafting draftsmen draftspersons curves modeling clay plasticine hands taillights scraping modelmaking]
Contours are established and held true to the exactions of templates which accurately transfer the dimensions for conforming surfaces. At the same time, the individual art forms of decorations are sculptured in clay for a continuing development of the three dimensional theme.
Now the dreams are presented for approval. Only a short step behind the exterior concept is the design theme of the interior and its concept of complements in color. [suits executives unveilings clones management inspection congratulations tailfins fetishism clay models curves handshakes shaking hands]
Only a short step behind the exterior concept is the design theme of the interior and its concepts of complement in color.
Textures must harmonize with colors and fabrics must be durable as well as artistically compatible with the overall interior theme. [colors art and color section designers detailing women workers]
Each design concept, exterior as well as interior, is now translated from clay to plaster, from plaster to fiberglass. Thus the ideas, the concepts and the dreams of the stylists, come to life in the form of full scale components modeled in fiberglass. [molds models dashboards instruments Populuxe]
To give us the blend of functional beauty, now comes the final transformation into metal, glass, fibers and fabrics. Modern technology has supplied the American stylist with new materials of intriguing lightness and great strength. [taillights ornaments steering wheels]
The distinguishing marks of the new American look are in art forms, in colors, and in the expressive changes of surface which bring out the new textures and the interplay of materials. [steering wheels dashboards instruments seats upholstery interior doors armrests]
Designs in straight delicate lines, designs in graceful curves, designs of strength without bulk, beauty of function as well as beauty of form. [radiator grilles tailfins taillights 1959 Chevrolet Impala windows license plates zeroes]
[couples country clubs dancing black cars chauffeurs class furs]
Indoors or outdoors, wherever we go, or wherever we stay, now and in the future, we can all depend on the stylist to beautify everything we need. From the eye appeal and swift effectiveness of the smallest utensils in the kitchen of the future, [Frigidaire Kitchen of Tomorrow futurism futuristic silhouettes lamps projectors coffeemakers percolators appliances primary colors plastic knives]
to the serene grandeur of our glistening structures, the hand of the stylist is ever designing changes to improve our life of the future. [buildings models pavilions airplanes ships nuclear powered]
Thanks to the American stylist, yes, thanks to the men and women who design. [Direction By: W.F. Banes, John Thiele. Camera By: Roger Fenimore, Pierre Mols, Robert Tavernier. Sound By: Daniel Mandlebaum. Coordination By: Robert Senglaub. Art Direction By: Robert Mounsey, Charles Nasca, Otto Simunich. Wardrobe By: Countess Grace de Mun, Blenda Isbey. Music By: Samuel Benavie, James Higgins, Milton Weinstein. Editing By: V.L. Herman, Harold Rogers. The End. A Jam Handy Picture. Firebird II Pontiac dream cars automobiles driving Oldsmobile Golden Rocket GM Tech Center General Motors Technical Center domes sunsets skies Eero Saarinen copyright notice]
February 28, 2012 Subject:
How Do I receive the Legal Rights to this?
I want to use this in a documentary how do I get the rights?
October 9, 2010 Subject:
The American Look
What's funny is: By the time the 1970's rolled around, you couldn't GIVE away the crap shown in this video. haha
Now it's all chic again, though.
May 14, 2010 Subject:
...the telephone at the beginning is Swedish (Ericsson). And so much of the design is Scandinavian-inspired. I love the repeated "enjoyed by the American people" phrase...as though no one else was enjoying it. American navel-gazing goes a long way back, doesn't it?
June 7, 2005 Subject:
Detroit Abandoned Harley Earl's "Styling Leadership" Paradigm Detailed In This Short Documentary
Sad but true. The bean counters and or financial treasury office administrators pulled off a coup and knocked out the lights of the designer and in doing so took all their power.
That's why cars America's cars became so unatractive by the time we reached the 1980s...Detroit, especially GM, was following Henry Ford's utilitarian prototype model versus the one they should have been on which was Harley Earl's "Styling Leadership" blueprint.
Look at the trains that GM Styling used to design back around the mid-20th century...they were spectacular. Look at the trains designed in America today...for the most part, we experienced going backwards in time when Detroit's Design Arsenal should have been chugging along strongly and cranking out not only beautiful cars at the end of the 20th century...but trains, too.
But we all know what happened...cause the truth has been scary...LOOK AT GM's DESIGNS today...they are not leading designs...but ones that are created by committees. And we all know, good ideas come from people's minds originally...not committees. Car design should be that way, too.
April 17, 2005 Subject:
This video represents the feelling of the styling in the '50/'60. It was very representative to me!!!
January 11, 2005 Subject:
"15:06:24:00 MS Mies van der Rohe (?) chair"
yeah!! Is the Barcelona chair, from the architect "Mies van der Rohe",
March 19, 2004 Subject:
Cold War Consumerism
ÂAmerican Look,Â which oozes with self-congratulation about Âthe basic freedom of the American people, the freedom of choice,Â was made in 1958, the year after the Russians launched Sputnik. This precipitated a crisis in AmericaÂs confidence in its technological superiority, which is reflected in the orgy of over-compensation that we see in this film. To viewers at the time, the array of consumer objects with the Âflowing lines and graceful shapes that we Americans enjoyÂ that reflect the Âease and grace and gaiety of American lifeÂ were meant to contrast with the widely publicized shortages of consumer goods and drab quality of everyday life in the Soviet Union. But, in the end, ÂAmerican LookÂ is nothing more than a build-up to exercise our American freedom of choice to buy a Chevrolet. In a 1940 Chevrolet film in the Archive, ÂLeave it to Roll-OhÂ (my personal favorite), Chevrolets symbolize the mobility and glamour that Americans craved after the Depression. In ÂAmerican Look,Â the Chevrolet is a static design object. The fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the automotive design process in Part III (did they really make a full size car out of clay?) is meant to show-off AmericaÂs technological egalitarianism and prowess, as opposed to the top-down ideological bureaucracy and mediocrity of the Soviets. By 1962, ÂAmerican LookÂ had degenerated into a later Chevrolet film, ÂAmerican Thrift,Â in which ÂchoiceÂ boiled down to a parade of women pushing carts through suburban supermarkets. How did they get there? In Chevrolets, now nothing more than a mundane means of transportation. ÂAmerican LookÂ ends with sleek, streamlined Âcars of the futureÂ parking at a corporate park. The filmmakersÂ vision of the future was one of beautifully designed consumer goods, aerodynamically designed cars and endlessly available parking places. The prosaic ÂAmerican Thrift,Â made only four years later, shows how unsustainable that vision was.
February 21, 2004 Subject:
a celebration of form and function
This film is a celebration of form, function, and style, a perfect example of 50s style, including "Googie" style, which, IMHO, is one of the most aesthetically pleasing forms of design of the 20th century.
February 8, 2004 Subject:
A feast for the eyes still leads to indigestion
Jam Handy. Technicolor. Yow. At home, at work, at play, this epic celebrates all that is stylish in the products of American manufacturing. Only by part 3 do we get the real agenda: Sell Chevys! Yes, it seems the horizontal tail fin was designated as the Chevy coup for 1959. Cars will will be so much better with fins that go out rather than up!
But before we get to the Chevy design studios, we are led through a stunning series of illusions of image as substance. Extraordinary lighting, camera angles, and musical background make the ordinary seem magical and alluring. It is ultimately not about function or usefulness, it is about emotion, that we *like* the product. We don't care if what we see is any good, just that it is visually enticing and that we want to own it. The heart of the Jam Handy Organization: selling.
January 17, 2004 Subject:
Perhaps the most annoying soundtrack ever! The music is cheery schmaltz punctuated by meaningless rhythmic spasms of high-frequency brass & percussion. This sonic nightmare is then juxtaposed with the voiced over non-sequiters to complete the effect. I dare you- listen to the audio alone without being distracted by the overy saturated '64 world's fair /lapidus crap visuals. You will come away most delightfully revolted!
December 30, 2003 Subject:
American Look only
As a designer you are acutely aware of the flood of crappy products in our market place. You buy something only to decover how unusable it is, or how impractical in real life something is. This series of movies shows how optimistic America was about solving these problems at one time. Now people just want the newest bauble in a shiney package. Does anyone really need a palm piolet? What purpose does it serve? So people can keep track of pointless meetings with people they hate to sell the latest palm piolet.
It is hard to imagine the products in these films as "new". After seeing most of them covered with dirt after years of use in a dumpster somewhere, but they were. They were top of the line, highest technology, extreme examples of consumption. Like the palm piolet or the newton before it they will eventually wear out , become obsolete and be replaced by the next level of "new crap" we all must have. Such is life. As people we are born the "new " thing loved intently and seen as the hope for the future. We grow up, reach maturity, hit a peak then the next new thing comes along and bam! your in a dumpster somewhere covered with dirt. Just look in the eyes of any man over 40. Once the apple of his mothers eye, now subjected to humiliation on a daily basis. Noone wants to see him naked. A naked baby is ohh soo cute. But a naked old man is yeech!
(in a psuedo french accent)
ze circle of life, she goes on...
June 9, 2003 Subject:
This is a classic and rare chance to view an era that is still recognized as the peak period of 20th Century modern design viewed from the era itself rather than from a historical point-of-view. So much of the furniture see in this film by Herman Miller, Eames, Bertoia, Saarinen, etc., is still being manufactured and is still great furniture, not only because of how it looks but because it was designed for maximum comfort.
December 26, 2002 Subject:
(full film) This great Jem Handy picture, (presented in 'Superscope' widescreen, whatever that means) picks up where the American Engineer left off, and tells us all about the wonderous stylings of America today. Plenty of weird and very strange dssigns, even for today, much less in 1958 are presented. Your Dog can have a Art Nouveau Dog House! Don't like the plain browness of your catcher's mask? Make it orange! Do you want to attract bears? Make your tent bright blue! Since this is a Jem Handy movie, soon all of this winds down to, of course, the design of automobiles. And what an automobile it is.. The 1958 Impala looks (literally) like a killer car with it's too sharp back wings and (yikes!) spikes on the front grill! Check out the building where the people meet who designed this thing, and soon you'll realize why this very odd looking car doesn't look so out of place. Reccomended!
October 6, 2002 Subject:
American Look (Full Film)
This lavish, Technicolor, widescreen film, sponsored by General Motors, purports to be a salute to "stylists" (read industrial and graphic designers), but it actually had an ulterior motiveÂÂto justify GM's annual model changes. It doesn't get any more "modern" than thisÂÂusing the word to mean both design influenced by Modernism in art and what was the "latest thing" in the 1950's. Images of one brightly colored, modernistic gadget or home furnishing after another are shown, while the narrator tells us how modern Americans (meaning attractive, upper middle class white Americans) are concerned more than ever before with the look of things. The people, though, definitely take a back seat to the "stuff" in this film. And all the stuff is shown as existing primarily for looksÂÂeven the items with practical functions are not shown being actually used. A few items are demonstrated, but only like they would be in a store, i.e. an electric mixer is shown spinning in an empty glass bowl. The film concludes with a "behind the scenes look at the design process", as we see designers working on the 1959 Chevrolet behind locked doors. We get to see that it was essentially designed by a committee and that the "best elements" from every designer's work were combined to make a composite that was supposed to be greater than the sum of its parts. This car was the one with the back end that was one big set of tailfinsÂÂit's hard to believe now that this was considered "great design" in its time, though it was (at least in this film). The incredible populuxe attitude that infuses this film, and all the examples of modern design, make this a real 1950s time capsule.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****. Also available on Lifestyles USA, Vol. 1 and Our Secret Century, Vol. 1: The Rainbow Is Yours.